Chaplaincies at universities need to equip students with the ability to help one another access support, a Derry-based chaplain has said.
Fr Brendan Collins, who works part-time at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus said that young Catholics are well-placed to reach out to their fellow students who may be struggling.
Responding to figures showing that the number of third level students availing of counselling has increased by more than 300% over the past eight years, Fr Collins said he believes that chaplaincies have seen similar increases among students.
He said the key to modern chaplaincy is “young people reaching out to young people”, and rejected the idea that chaplaincies are in need of large numbers of clergy.
“Even if there were 10 priests here, could they reach young people in the same way that young people can?” he asked, saying that young people are at least as well-placed as he would be to help their peers.
He said “there has been an increase” in calls for support saying that other chaplains have reported rising numbers of students seeking help. “Even talking to other priests students have been accessing parishes to ask for help,” he continued.
“Students often feel isolated when they’re away from home,” he explained, “and when they’re vulnerable, depression can set in. They often don’t want to ring home, but need someone to talk to.”
Increased numbers of students haven’t brought an increased range of problems, he said, but among the newer problems students face are issues with social media. “Students’ needs are very different now than 10 years ago,” he says, citing how students can feel humiliated by things said on social media or by alcohol- or drug-fuelled acts of stupidity that are recorded and preserved there.
“It can take seconds, but it’s there for history,” he said, adding that “everything is known now, and this can increase isolation, with students afraid to go home because people know what they’ve done.”